Read part 1, part 2, and part 3.
The college & university years
This Fall marks the first time that both my sister and I are officially past the high school years. Now at age 19, I would have graduated two years ago, and had Emi been in school, she would have finished up this past spring. This is probably a good time to explain that in Quebec, high school only goes until grade 11, so people graduate at age 17 (or 16, depending when their birthday is). "Higher education" in Quebec consists of CEGEP (sometimes called College), which is free for Quebec residents and usually takes two years to complete the chosen program, which is then usually followed by university, which works the same as everywhere else, except that if you've gone to CEGEP, university only takes three years for a bachelors program. This is what both my sister and I are watching the vast majority of our peers doing, while we follow very different paths.
I know that to some, unschooling is simply an educational philosophy that covers the traditional elementary and high school years, something that's a good preparation for moving on to higher education, perhaps, but something that does have an endpoint. Yet to embrace unschooling as true life learning (learning as something that's inseparable from life) means to accept that learning never ends, and to truly become a lifelong unschooler. Now, to me being a lifelong unschooler can definitely include college or university, but it can just as easily not. It's all in how you approach life, and how you think about learning and education, not in whether some of your life learning happens in a school building or not.
For me, I doubt college or university will be part of my life, and if it is, it certainly won't be in the near future. I know it isn't the right choice for me right now for several reasons:
- I have a fundamental disagreement with the institution of schooling. With the structure, how it's run, how it's looked at and what it means to most people, the hierarchy and the commercialization of education.
- The thought of spending my days in a classroom seems positively stifling to me, which tells me that's definitely not where I should be right now!
- Of all the things I'm interested in doing with my life, all of the things I think I might do to earn money, a degree is necessary for none of them.
- The cost. Especially considering all of the above, to go into debt for a degree I don't want and will likely never use seems ridiculous!
"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."
Learning, the knowledge and skills and experience that's absorbed every single day simply by living life, can and does continue past high school, even if you choose, as I have, to pass on institutions of so-called higher education.
As I happily go through another not-back-to-school season, and while many of my peers are heading back into the classroom, I'm instead following my own personal, ever changing and evolving "curriculum" (though it looks startlingly like just living life) that currently does or may well include:
- Speaking at the Toronto Unschooling Conference, and at other events, about freedom based education, and specifically unschooling;
- Organizing, with the assistance of a great group of co-conspirators, a freedom-based education conference in Montreal, which will include a wide range of speakers and workshops that give people the knowledge and tools to step outside of the mainstream views on education, learning, and life;
- Continuing to write regularly on my blog to an ever increasing audience;
- Starting to write the first draft of a book about unschooling;
- Finding and implementing creative and non-traditional ways of making money;
- Publishing the second issue of DIY Life Zine, a self-published magazine;
- And helping to further the cause of freedom-based education in Quebec, which includes collaborating with people involved in both starting a freeschool and a lobby group, among other projects.
I also want to address the frequency with which I see people, even unschoolers, putting a huge gap between pre-eighteen and post-eighteen life. As if, along with the end of unschooling high school and the start of college, turning eighteen means there suddenly has to be a huge shift in the way you act, what is expected of you, and how you’re treated. I know that leading up to my eighteenth birthday I felt a HUGE amount of pressure! To be doing something vastly different suddenly, to be taking on a ton more responsibility all at once! As if eighteen was a kind of magical number and age. Yet, I was still the same person on the day before my birthday as I was on the day after. Still growing and changing, yes, but not making any huge jumps in that growth just because I’d passed a day that a bunch of people have decided holds special significance! I see much talk among unschoolers about allowing your child to grow at their own pace, respecting their natural timeline and not attempting to force an external measure of when they should be doing what upon them. Yet many seem to think that philosophy no longer applies after age eighteen. You’re an adult now: act like one!
I encourage parents to realize that there is no magical age, and that their kid is still the same person, and no matter what their age should not be held to any external measure of what they “should” be doing.
So, Where do I go from here?
At my age, people now want to know what I’m going to do with my life. Because seemingly, a decision must be made before age 20, and changing your mind frequently, or heaven forbid, moving into and through adulthood without a solid plan, is unacceptable. People think that you have to have answers: goals and 10 step plans and ‘where you want to be when you’re forty’. The time to decide what the rest of your life will look like is now, so many people think. Yet to me, over-planning feels stifling. I’d rather take life as it comes, make short term plans only, try lots of different things, focus on what’s truly important to me at each point in my life, and just do my best to make things work out. Sometimes, the sheer spontaneity and lack-of-certainty of this non-plan seems terrifying to me, but looking at people I admire who are in their thirties or forties and have basically lived this way for years gives me courage. They don’t usually have much money, but they’re happy: and to me, that’s what’s important! I don’t want to be rich, I just want to be happy, to contribute my best self to the world, to do good, and to live by and act on my personal ethics and morality. To me that’s true success, not the gaining of social station or monetary profits.
The power of life learning
In closing, I want to reiterate what I said earlier: that true life learning never ends. We’re always learning, growing, and discovering. And as unschoolers, we’re in a marvellous position to think, see, and live outside of the box. I make YouTube videos about unschooling sometimes, and in one video I interviewed my sister. One of the questions I asked her was what does she think the best thing about unschooling is? And, after saying she can think of LOTS of good things, she said:
“You get to have freedom in shaping yourself, and I think you really come to know who you are and what you want to do...in life. I often encounter people in school with the mindset of ‘oh, this is just the way things are, well I’m just going to do this, I guess’. I think not having that sort of close-minded, narrow path kind of outlook on life is the best thing you get from unschooling.”
If you know and trust yourself, if you feel confident in your ability to direct your own life, you have the tools to see where you want to be, where your unique skills and passions can best be put to good use. You have the courage to change your mind, and choose a new path when the old one no longer feels like a good fit. By giving children and teens the power over their own lives, you create individuals who can enact important changes in their lives, the lives of those around them, and the world itself.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with another quote by Wendy Priesnitz:
"Personal empowerment begins with realizing the value of our own life experience and potential to affect the world.”